“We’re all convinced sooner or later, Jack.”
Prior to this past two weeks’ one-two punch of “316” and “The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham,” Lost has aired Jack episodes and Locke episodes back-to-back three times. It happened twice in Season One: With “Walkabout” (in which Locke hunts boar and we learn about his handicap) and “White Rabbit” (in which Jack picks up his father’s body in Australia, and on the island takes responsibility for leading the castaways), then with “Deus Ex Machina” (in which Locke meets his biological mother and father, and makes a series of decisions that lead to Boone’s death) and “Do No Harm” (in which Jack gets married to a woman whose life he saved, and on the island fails to save Boone’s life). And last season we had the one-two of “Something Nice Back Home” (about Jack’s appendicitis and his deteriorating life off the island) and “Cabin Fever” (about Locke’s boyhood and his arrival at Jacob’s cabin).
Throughout the run of Lost, the writers have set up the conflict between skeptical, persistently miserable “man of science” Jack and soulful, resourceful, infinitely trusting “man of faith” Locke. But what I liked so much about “316”—and what I understand some of you didn’t like—is that Jack had something of a conversion. The doubting Thomas stopped doubting; throughout the hour, he had an expression of quiet amazement on his face, as though oddly delighted that everything was coming together at last, just because he had decided to let go and give in to fate.
Locke, on the other hand, just spent a whole episode avoiding his fate—which is something very un-Locke-like. Of course it wasn’t entirely his fault. Apparently after Locke took his turn at the Frozen Donkey Wheel, he landed in a spot in the desert monitored by Charles Widmore, who with his assistant Matthew Abaddon helps Locke get to a doctor (to heal his broken leg), and pledges to aid him in locating all the members of the Oceanic 6. But in the early part of the mission, Locke’s heart doesn’t really seem into it. He has cursory meetings with Sayid in Santo Domingo (where Sayid’s given up the killin’-for-Ben game in order to build hovels for the poor), and Walt in New York (in what amounts to a “Hey, what’s up? Not much.” kind of conversation), and Hugo in Santa Rosa (where the big guy assumes Locke is a ghost, then shoos him away when he spots Abaddon lurking about), and Kate in her tidy suburban L.A. home (where she basically calls Locke out for being naturally obsessive about things). At no point does Locke convey any sense of urgency to his task to corral all his old buddies and bring them back to the island. And perhaps that's because he knows—despite Widmore’s insistence otherwise—that there’s an unpleasant endpoint to his time back in the “real world.” Locke’s going to have to die. And until he faces up to that, the rest is meaningless.
I have to say, I ran a little hot-and-cold on “The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham,” though by the end I felt pretty warmly towards it. After an unnerving opening—which I’ll get back to in a moment—and a few harrowing scenes of Locke writhing around in the desert, I was primed for an hour of mind-bending freakiness, in the classic Lost tradition. But then the episode settled into the plodding series of meetings I just described, none of which were all that revelatory or exciting—or even well-written. (Sorry, but I still have problem with the “island needs us” kinds of dialogue, even though I’ve grown to accept it as the cost of being a Lost fan.) I was prepared just to shrug and sigh and hope for better next week, and then an odd thing started to happen: I started to get into the rhythm of the episode, and to understand what it was trying to do.
From the moment Locke has to get back into that damned wheelchair—not moments after being told by Widmore that he’s “special”—“The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham” becomes about breaking Locke’s spirit, one mundane encounter at a time. All those early scenes are dull and redundant in large part because that’s how Locke’s feeling at the time: powerless and uncertain. And then he asks Abaddon to take him to see his one true love, Helen—the woman he tells Kate he might've been willing to leave the island for—and he discovers that she died of a brain aneurysm. (Or at least Abaddon shows him a tombstone; one never knows what Widmore might've faked.) The two men have a brief conversation about whether Locke really has to die or not. (“Is that inevitable, or is that a choice?” Abaddon asks.) Then, out of nowhere, Abaddon gets shot, splattering the back of his car and forcing Locke to leap into the driver’s seat and roar out straight into a crash. And of course—of course—Locke ends up in Jack’s hospital, where the two men can renew their old conversation about fate versus coincidence, and Jack can stick the knife in one last time, hissing, “Maybe you’re just a lonely old man who crashed on an island.”
Here’s what I ultimately found fascinating about “The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham:” I can’t decide if Locke’s final decision to kill himself is his way of fulfilling Richard Alpert’s prophecy, or just the last pathetic act of a man nobody loves. And I can’t decide if what finally happens to Locke—with Ben breaking in to stop the hanging, then strangling Locke himself when he finds out that Locke is making plans to visit Eloise Hawking—means that Locke really met his destiny head on, as intended. Locke was supposed to turn the wheel; Ben did it. Locke was supposed to sacrifice himself; Ben caught him unaware and killed him. What does this say about Locke? What does it mean to our ongoing debate over Ben Linus’ motives? I’m not sure… but it sure perked me up.
I also no longer know what to make of the eternal struggle between Ben and Charles—sort of the Locke and Jack of another era. Early in the episode, Widmore looks like an honestly good guy, marveling at how he remembered meeting Locke when he was 17, and warning him of the coming "war." He even says that his ultimate goal is to get Locke back to the island “so you can lead.” But you know what? Ben says the same thing to Locke. And both men lie—presumably—about whether Locke actually has to die to make everything right. Who are the good guys here, ultimately? (Or have we moved past those kind of considerations?)
So yes, maybe Lindelof and Cuse could’ve done a better job of making those earlier scenes more entertaining, without breaking the mood of mounting sorrow that defined this episode. And yes, maybe some of the acting—I’m looking at you, Matthew Fox—wasn’t always on pitch. But there were still plenty of mysteries to unravel, including a juicy new one: Who are Caesar and Ilana, and why did they conspire to get on Ajira 316? Did they know about the runway at The Hydra (he one Kate and Sawyer were helping to build a few years ago)? Why did Lapidus and “some woman” take off in a boat as soon as they landed? (I’m guessing that the woman is Sun, and she wanted to go to the big island to find Jin.) What is Locke going to do to Ben, now that the creepy little man has left him for dead yet again?
That’s a lot to ponder from an episode that I was so sure—early on—was only telling me things I already knew. By the end, as Ben Linus promised last week, I was convinced.
-It appears that SEC basketball has finished its Wednesday night run on my local ABC affiliate, so tonight I got to see Lost in HD for the first time this season. Boy, it sure does make a difference. (Incidentally, thanks again to Scott Tobias for allowing me to interrupt his TV watching via SlingBox these past three weeks.)
-I caught up with the most recent episodes of Battlestar Galactica over the weekend—don’t worry Zack, I’m not going to spill any spoilers here—and the “info-dump” quality of recent BSGs has reminded me of the early scenes in the last two Losts, where people just… say stuff. The recent chattiness serves as a kind of rebuke to all the people who’ve been complaining for the past few years that nobody asks the right questions or gets straight answers on Lost. Lately we’ve seen a few examples what Lost would be like if the story were told primarily through conversation.
-Watching the scene between Kate and Locke, I realized how few scenes those two characters have had together over the years. One of the things I like about Lost is that the cast is so big that not every character is close. Sort of like real life.
-I love the way Terry O’Quinn delivers the line, “I remember dying.” In fact, O’Quinn was easily the best part of tonight’s episode (which is good, since it was his episode).
-Whenever we have one of these episodes that fills in only a few details of a backstory we already generally know, I think about Bart, Milhouse and Martin reading the origin of Radioactive Man together and gasping, “So that’s how it happened.” Only I tend to say it a little sarcastically.
-I miss Sayid. I hope he gets his own episode soon.
Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:
-“Your parents had a sense of humor when they named you,” says Widmore to Locke, explaining his choice of “Jeremy Bentham” as a name. I'm sure I don't need to rehash who Bentham is, in relation to the real John Locke. There's certainly a lot to consider there.
-At the Hydra, Caesar flips through documents, obviously looking for something. And he comes across a Life magazine with “color pictures of hydrogen test.” An interesting artifact for the Dharma folks—or the Hostiles—to have held onto.
-When Locke refers to The Others, Widmore says, “They’re not The Others to me; they’re my people.” I wonder how Widmore came to know the terminology? For that matter, a lot of Others—like Juliet—seem to know they’re Others, without having been privy to the Oceanic group’s conversations on the matter. I can’t decide if that’s sloppy writing, or if it means something.
-Re-watching “316” over the weekend, I noticed that Ben left his seat right before the plane crashed. Do you think he knew something about where the various sections of passengers would be distributed on the timeline?
I’ve also been re-watching Season Four over the past couple of weeks, and yesterday I got up to “Cabin Fever” and the three-hour finale. A couple of things I noticed:
-In Cabin Fever, when Locke meets with Christian and Claire, both of them are so mellow. The dead so often seem much happier than the living on this show. (Assuming those two are dead, of course.)
-In the finale, right before the ship blows up, as the copter pulls away Sun screams, “We need to go back!” Just like Jack would whine to Kate by the airport a few years later. Lost is big on repeated phrases like, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” and “live together or die alone,” which often have more meanings the more you weigh them. Given all the timeline-hopping we’ve been doing, I’m starting to think that “We need to go back!” is a command with multiple layers.
-Watching that calamitous helicopter crash into the ocean again, I wondered how tiny little Aaron made it out of the water alive. The answer, I assume, is that time-old explanation: “The island isn’t done with him.” Also, it’s interesting that escaping the crash alive is referred to as “a miracle,” just after Locke tells Jack on the island that he’s about to see “a miracle.” The camera cuts to Jack’s reaction after that post-crash line, and immediately, he starts parroting Locke’s pitch about how they’re all going to have to lie. I’m thinking that moment—the helicopter crash—is where Jack started to believe.